Russian President Vladimir Putin is assuring the world that he does not want to run the Russian state for life, but is openly considering running for another six-year term in 2018, according to a new interview with ITAR-TASS. The interview, while never asking direct and hard-hitting questions, does touch on the political cult that has developed around Mr. Putin within Russia and his image abroad as the face of the Russian state. First Deputy Chief of the Presidential Staff Vyacheslav Volodin said last year “No Putin, no Russia,” which according to the interview, Mr. Putin repudiated.
The interview comes at an interesting time for Putin’s regime, as estimates have places the total cost of the sanctions on the Russian economy at $40 billion a year, and coupled with an enormous drop in oil prices, the country could lose as much as $100 billion a year. Putin’s reported ratings still soar at above 80%, which belies some state intervention in the release of those numbers given the enormous capital flight and sharp recession that has taken place since the imposition of economic sanctions by a coalition of Western powers over the invasion and intervention of Ukraine.
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- Having failed to reach an accord within the agreed upon framework, Iranian and P5+1 negotiators have agreed to extend negotiations by seven months. The length of the extension is noteworthy as it seems to belie the notion that the two sides were nearing a lasting agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program. US Secretary of State John Kerry intimated that an array of new issues became known in the last days of the negotiation, and that they “don’t need all seven months” to broker an accord. Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei praised the extension, insisting that it showed Western forces had failed to “bring Iran ‘to its knees’” and dismissed Western pressures concerning Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Khamanei is expected to continue supporting the negotiations, though any agreement will ultimately need his approval before being signed.
- The World Bank is reporting that glaciers in Central Asia are in danger of melting, causing potential flooding, excessive heat, and increased food prices. The report, however, mentioned only that the surface of these glaciers could decrease up to 80% in the second half of the 21st century because of climate change. Melting glaciers is correlated with a reduction in crop capacity, and rural populations will suffer, according to their estimates.
- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that Ukraine is taking steps to ensure the creation of a new government, as the embattled president sought to reassure Western allies that reforms will be implemented. US and Western governments are criticizing the delays in the creation of a coalition government, which were mandated by October’s internal elections, believed to be the result of a rivalry between Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk.
- In Nagorno-Karabakh, tensions are rising as the result of ceremonial funerals for three soldiers killed earlier this month after Azerbaijan shot down a helicopter. Nothing about the details of the incident have been verified, as Armenian officials insist that the Russian Mi-24 gunship had been flying a training mission, while officials from Azerbiajan insist that the helicopter made “attack maneuvers” against their positions. Armenian officials attempted to recover the bodies several times and finally got them and reported that two Azerbaijani soldiers were killed in the assault.
- The United States Senate has approved Pamela Spratlen’s appointment as the new ambassador to Uzbekistan. Spratlen, a career diplomat, has been part of State Department missions to Guatemala and Vladivostok, and is head of the Central Asian Department, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission to the US Embassy in Kazakkhstan. She will be replacing George Kroll, who has been in the office since 2010.
- US President Barack Obama has approved the nomination of Sheila Gwaltney, another career diplomat, to be the next ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. She has served in Panama, South Africa, and St. Petersburg, Russia and received her first assignment to Kyrgyzstan in 1999 as deputy chief of mission. She was also in charge during the transition of Michael McFaul back to civilian life.
- Russia and Kazakhstan have come to an agreement on the reduction of launches of Proton carrier rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is the center of the Russian space program. Oleg Ostapenko told ITAR-TASS that Russian has agreed that Proton launches have been limited due to serious and habitual complaints about the toxicity levels of the fuel, which many local Kazakhs say have poisoned the environment.